U.S. Senate Spending Bill Calls for Cancellation of Defense Weather Satellite System

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Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems’ bid to build the next generation of U.S. military weather satellites was dealt a setback Sept. 15 when the Senate Appropriations Committee called for the cancellation of the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS).

The DWSS program was initiated last year in the wake of a White House decision to dismantle the troubled National Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) and establish separate programs for military and civilian weather needs. Northrop Grumman, the NPOESS prime contractor, was given a $429.9 million Air Force contract in May to get started on DWSS. Northrop also retained an oversight role on the Joint Polar Satellite System, the civilian counterpart to DWSS.

Senate appropriators, who last year denied the Pentagon’s full funding request for DWSS, citing a lack of urgency, have now signaled they expect Northrop Grumman to compete to build the successor to the Air Force’s Defense Meteorological Satellite Program spacecraft.

Two of those legacy spacecraft have yet to launch.

A provision in the 2012 defense appropriations bill the full committee adopted during a marathon legislative markup session “[d]irects the cancellation of DWSS and provides funds for a new competitive development program,” according to the committee’s summary of the $630.8 billion spending measure.

The bill, however, would allow the Air Force to spend $250 million next year on continued sensor development. Another $150 million is set aside for contract termination.

Other military satellite programs fared considerably better in the Senate bill, which fully funded the Air Force’s request for the GPS 3 navigation satellites, Space Based Infrared System missile-tracking satellites, and Advanced  Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) and Wideband Global Satcom communications satellites.

The House of Representatives in July approved a $649 billion defense appropriations bill that halved the Air Force’s $445 million DWSS request but did not call for canceling the program.

The House also fully funded the service’s $552.8 million request for AEHF and provided additional money for Wideband Global Satcom but trimmed about $100 million from the Pentagon’s $854 million request for GPS 3.